Cris Tovani

Annotating for Active Reading: Post-It Notes and File Folders

This fall my 8th graders have practiced Notice and Note annotation strategies as well as those from Cris Tovani.  I have not required my 8th graders to annotate their independent reading, but earlier this month, I felt annotating their reading for an in-class reading day would be beneficial for my students.  I also felt this might be a gentle way of starting to scaffold their annotating for TQE discussions that we’ll do in January 2020.   I created mini-versions of notes/handouts I had already given the students and condensed them to “marry” them to a TQE framework, integrating our existing annotation strategies as well as Beers and Probst’s “3 Big Questions.”  Here is the result:

You can make a copy of these handouts I created here:

Because I had lost my voice due to an upper respiratory infection, I had students engage in a quick partner reading of the instructions.  Pairs then summarized the instructions and what they needed to do during their independent reading time.  I then shared a completed model I did over Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.

Students were asked to complete 6 annotations:  two “thoughts”, two “questions”, and two “epiphanies”.   I provided a basket of Post-It notes in varying colors, sizes, and styles at every table area for students to use.  In addition, I gave every student a file folder with his/her name on it to place their sticky notes.  When students finished annotating at the end of the period, they organized and placed their notes in the folder to turn in to me.  The folder system is something I am trying so that I can grade annotation work with Post-Its but not have to collect a zillion bulky composition books.  When the folders are returned to students, they get a scored rubric of their work and can transfer the Post-It notes to their course binder.

I found this to be an easy way to nudge students to read a little more actively but not overwhelm them with the act of annotating.  We’ll use this system of collecting and sharing annotations when we begin our literary nonfiction and memoir book clubs in January as well as with our independent reading next semester.  I feel like the folders (which I keep once the students remove their work) are a simple but easy to use vehicle for collecting and checking the annotation as a formative assessment.  You can make a copy of the rubric I created by clicking here.

How do you encourage active reading and annotating in a meaningful and manageable way?

Annotation Conferences as Formative Assessment

We are racing toward the end of the year, and my juniors have been working hard between their prep work for our first American lit book club meeting tomorrow (for A day classes) and Friday (for B day classes) and our state End of Course testing.  About 10 days ago, we revisited two sets of annotation strategies we have used all year:

I also introduced fiction signposts from Bob Probst and Kylene Beers; I am using this beautiful interpretation/version crafted by the amazing Julie Swinehart.  We came up with shortcut codes of CC, Aha!, TQ, WW, AA, and MM.  I also modeled sample annotations for students in all classes.

For our American Lit book club project (blog post way overdue and coming soon!), my juniors participated in a book tasting of five texts:  Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Raisin in the Sun, and Our Town.  I’ll write more about the book selection process, but in a nutshell, nearly everyone got his/her first choice, and I developed reading schedules for each text around our testing calendar to balance testing days with in-class time for reading and prep work for the first book club meetings.

One of the requirements for the first round of reading is for students to craft at least 10 high quality annotations; students can do more for bonus points, but 10 is the minimum for this first reading round.  Students must do the following with their annotations:

  1.  Include a shortcut code or text symbol
  2. Write at least one complete sentence
  3. Use any combination of the three strategy sets (and students could also craft their own additional codes if needed).
  4. Craft meaningful annotations to help them be reflective and active readers.

I provided a multitude of Post-It notes in a diverse range of colors, sizes, and styles to meet everyone’s needs (yes, I bought these with my own money, but monitor Amazon for great sales on Post-It notes!).  With our mini-lesson and supplies at hand, students jumped right into their work:

This week I have been conferencing with students 1:1 about their annotation work.  The procedure is very simple:  I have a chair next to my desk, students come over for a conference when ready (and sign up on the board if we get busy with a waiting list), we sit side by side, and we spend 7-10 minutes chatting about their annotations.  These conferences are reveal much about students’ thinking and questions about the text, and the annotations provide us some quick talking points for me to get an idea about the student and how he/she is progressing with engagement and understanding of the book.  The concept sounds so simple, but I have learned so much about my juniors as readers, thinkers, and individuals this week in a short time; these conferences, though brief, are incredibly insightful much like a writing conference.

Though the conferences do take up time, I highly encourage you to try them with your students!  Here is a sampler of work from all levels of 11th English–I have been impressed by the intellectual and emotional investment my students have put into their work.  The effort and quality of work is even more impressive considering the high stakes testing that is happening on any given day right now!  I know this work is helping them with their book club meeting prep graphic organizer (I’ll share in my next blog post) and will be the fuel for rich book club discussions tomorrow and Friday.

 

From Notebook Time to Student Talk and Share: It’s Easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3

Many of us like to incorporate share time for students to share what they are thinking and writing during notebook time.   I’ve shared some ways I encourage students to speak up or interact during this share time because I have found most are reluctant to do so.  Another strategy that is easy to do is what I call ABC partners.  If you are providing a structured or guided prompt, simply break into three logical sub-prompts. As students write, I quietly walk around and give them a ticket that says, A, B, or C.  When writing/thinking time has ended, you can either instruct students to find a partner with the same letter or you could even form small groups by letter.

Today my seniors were asked to read two short articles on ways language evolves (article 1 and article 2).   This prompt was designed to activate/frontload some thinking prior to work they’ll do next week to explore the time period background for our first unit of literature study of British literature.  After roughly 20 minutes of time to read, reflect, and write, students found “like” partners by letter (again, A, B, or C).  They then worked together to talk, discuss, and craft a collaborate response to these questions around their assigned letter prompt:

I provided students chart paper and markers; they could create their responses in any way they wanted to organize their ideas.  After talking and writing for about 20 minutes, each pair of students then did an informal, low-stakes share out.  The questions they generated will now become questions they can explore as move into our first unit of British literature.

  • Why does it take longer for written language to evolve than spoken language?
  • Will people in the future think we talked in a weird or strange way (just as Old or Middle English sounds to us)?
  • What words might be most likely to change or evolve in the future?
  • How will changes in society, culture, and technology influence the way language evolves?
  • How exactly do languages form and begin?
  • How have other languages influenced the English language over time?
  • What kinds of words are most likely to stand the test of time?

I have been more intentional this year about finding ways to mix up share time and strategies for getting students talking about their ideas and responses from notebook time prompts.  Cris Tovani, author of No More Telling as Teaching, has influenced this professional effort to elevate student talk in meaningful and authentic ways.

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Tackling Complex Texts with Think Tank Groups, Silent Gallery Walks, Noticings, and Reflections

Last week, four sections (two Honors Level and two CP) of my 11th ELA took on the challenge of deconstructing our reading of an excerpt of Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, Number 1 as we explore examples of persuasive texts across time periods and around themes of resilience and resistance.

Our primary essential questions included:

  • How do writers use rhetorical devices like parallelism and analogy to convey meaning and persuade?
  • How do writers use ethos, pathos, and logos to persuade an audience of an opinion or position on a topic/issue?

As students came into the room, the seating chart by “Think Tank” groups was projected on the board to help students find their new groups quickly.  After introducing some key literary terms students would need to know for breaking down the rhetoric of the essay, students received copies of our annotation codes (adapted from the work of Cris Tovani) at their table groups; these were delivered via my neon shop ticket pouches.  We first read the essay together a section at a time (thankfully, I have a copy of a pretty good reading with the textbook audio CD), and students annotated the text as we worked through the essay.

Next, each group received markers, lined tablet paper, and a task card ( created a total of nine) with a quote or passage to analyze and deconstruct along with guiding questions to scaffold this task.

Students had roughly 30-35 minutes to collaborate on their responses to the guiding questions and create a poster with the chart paper to share out to the class.  I walked around and answered questions, served as a sounding board, or redirected groups that might be straying off-task.

Originally, I planned for students to do oral presentations, but after one of my Honors classes struggled to keep up with their jot notes on each presentation, I realized that perhaps this was not the best way for groups to deliver their thinking.  I punted and modified the “share” portion of the activity to be a silent gallery walk, a move to that turned out to be the right one.

For the gallery walk, students had to visit each poster at its station where I had duplicated the task cards so everyone could see the passage/quote as well as the guiding question.  The graphic organizer I had designed for students to jot down ideas from the oral presentations transitioned perfectly into a notetaking graphic organizer for the silent gallery walk.

Students then had to jot down 2-3 key ideas or their big idea takeaways from the poster.  During the gallery walk, students:

  • Could move about the stations in any order.
  • Could not talk or carry their cell phones with them–either would result in a loss of points for the noticings activity.
  • Students needed to choose another poster hotspot to visit if there were more than 4-5 people at that center.

Once students completed their noticings and notes, they returned to their seats when ready to the do the final reflection at the end of the graphic organizer.  Students were asked to reflect on this question:  What idea or ideas have you heard today FROM OTHERS that has helped you better understand the Thomas Paine essay? Explain in 4-6 sentences, please.  The responses overwhelmingly identified points of clarification, but many students also commented how the collaborative walk and looking at other student work helped create an “a-ha!” moment for parts of the text that may have been confusing.

The culminating reflective activity was a writer’s notebook prompt (differentiated by and within different course levels) that asked students to think about the text as writers and to do some reflections on the writerly qualities of this persuasive essay.  Many used their silent gallery walk graphic organizer in conjunction with their copy of the essay to help them craft their responses.

My 4A CP class was the first  to complete the activity this way; the next day, my 3B Honors students did the activity through this approach.   When my 4B CP class followed them, they hung their posters next to or beneath the 3B posters, and students had a “meta” sort of experience as students recorded noticings from both classes.  I think students were even more engaged with the opportunity to “cross-pollinate” their thinking across classes; an Honors students from Period 2A who dropped by for makeup work whispered to me, “Is this an Honors class, too?” because she was so struck by how intensely focused they were in the gallery walk.  When I responded, “No, but they are working just as hard!” she exclaimed “Wow!”

On this note, I want to highlight that I did this activity across different “levels” of course sections.  I think one of the greatest disservices we do to students who are not in “Honors” levels courses is to exclude them from these kinds of learning activities that involve teamwork and deep thinking.  I made sure to heap the praise on at the end of class with Period 4B because their confidence has increased since the beginning of August, and I wanted to reinforce the belief I try to put forth each day we’re together that they are capable of doing academically challenging work.  The “glows” comments were also showered on my other CP class too as many of them do not see themselves as smart or able to do anything beyond a basic worksheet.  All students need opportunities to grow their academic capital as well as those social soft skills that are so important and come with collaborative learning experiences.   Sometimes it may be a struggle for both the students and the teacher when this kind of learning activity isn’t quite clicking, but it doesn’t mean we give up–instead, we scale back when needed and then try again from another approach or with additional supports to help students succeed.  Leveling and placement at the secondary level is a problematic issue, but that is another conversation for another day.

When my 2A class returned today, the group that originally struggled a bit with my original plan of oral presentations,  they completed their noticings by doing the silent gallery walk with three sets of posters–theirs along with Periods 3B and 4A.  In hindsight, I wish I had included the 4A posters, but it didn’t occur to me on the first day that a “meta” silent gallery walk would be a super cool learning experience for my students.

These photos are from this past Friday; today we had a third set of posters to grow our gallery walk, which I sadly forgot to photograph today but will add to the post in the morning.

Because this was a shorter text, I felt this was a prime opportunity to let students wrestle with a more challenging text and to build meaning together.  It is too easy to “spoon feed” students the answers we think they need to hear rather than letting them engage in meaning making for themselves.  I did provide scaffolding with the guiding questions and a menu of rhetorical devices on their task card, but aside from that, I did not provide any answers even when students wanted me to confirm they were correct.  Instead, I reflected the question back to them and would say, “What do you think?” and “How do you know?” to push their thinking.  The ninety minute block of time we have four days a week on our modified block schedule definitely lends itself to these kinds of learning experiences, and I feel it was worth the investment of time based on student responses on their graphic organizers as well as their writer’s notebook reflections.

How do you help students navigate complex texts and engage in meaning making?

Notebook Invitations, Annotation Statements, and Sketchnoting for Introducing and Navigating Challenging Nonfiction

Like many of you, I have found Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to be a challenging text for students in terms of both content and vocabulary.  Most 11th grade teachers find this be an especially tedious text to teach; several of you on Twitter shared it has been a struggle to engage students with this text.  As I worked on my lesson plans for the selection, I wondered how on earth I could help students navigate the text in a meaningful way.  I decided in both my Honors level, team taught, and college-prep level junior classes (5 total sections) that we would work through the text over two days with these activities during our block instructional time:

  • A Writer’s Notebook Invitation (#6) to get students thinking about the words in the selection and what predictions they could make about the text based on a word cloud of the sermon without knowing the title of the work or that it was a sermon.
  • A Reader’s Theatre performance to introduce Puritan values and the Great Awakening to students.
  • “Chunked” reading together of the selection with “pause and reflect” time after each time to annotate, sketchnote, and identify unfamiliar and/or strong vocabulary from that specific section.

We first began with our Writer’s Notebook Invitation in which students were presented the following visual prompt and questions for thinking:

Students had a copies of the prompt and image at their table group areas in the neon ticket pouches I use to share information with students so that they could examine the word cloud  more closely.  Students could then volunteer to share all or part of their entry with the class during our share time; as part of our notebook process work, students who volunteer to share get a neon orange sticker on their notebook page that reminds both of us the student has shared and will get bonus points on their self-selected notebook assessment we do monthly.  This sharing time is important because students get to hear each other’s thinking aloud, and the ideas shared in this session helped us think about strategies for making predictions based on word choice and making inferences based on the word cloud. Some students even made connections to other texts they read last year in 10th grade like Greek myths or Dante’s Inferno.  This activity took roughly 30 minutes or a third of our ninety minute block time.

We then got up and moving around with the Reader’s Theatre performance.  Before jumping into the text, I provided students the first page of a two page graphic organizer we’d need for our annotating and sketchnoting activity.  We numbered each section or chunk 1-4; I then explained to students this graphic organizer would provide us a way of reading and thinking actively about the text and help us navigate this most complex text of our unit of study.  I explained that we do three things with the active reading graphic organizer during our “pause and reflect” time:

  1.  We would compose two annotation statements as part of our noticings and reflection on that section.  I provided students annotation codes and sentence starters to help them compose their reflections; these codes are based on Cris Tovani’s work in Chapter 5 of So What Do They Really Know? and annotations as formative assessment.
  2. Sketchnoting:  we created a graphic or visual representation of what we “saw” in our minds as we read that section.
  3. Vocabulary: we recorded unfamiliar vocabulary; we also captured words that were strong or vivid word choices that appealed to our emotions.

In each class on this first day of the activity, we were able to finish anywhere from 2-4 sections in class (4B lost time due to an unexpected fire drill).   Students had copies of the annotation codes and sentence starters in their neon pouches, and I repeated the instructions during each “pause and reflect” session after we read a chunk or section of text.

Students could read ahead if they finished early, and students could take their work home if they needed to finish their work that evening.  I was truly astonished by the thinking I saw in their written AND in their visual representations across all classes.

 

  

 

Many students shared they liked this process, especially the sketchnotes; several made it a point to use their colored pencils or to put extra time and effort into their written and visual work.

We repeated this process for the remaining sections that we read and reflected upon on Day 2 (Thursday, August 31 and Friday, September 1).  Students received the second page of the graphic organizer upon arrival, and we finished up our reading and reflection work.  They then had the remainder of the period to finish their graphic organizer work if needed before completing a self-assessment of their self-selected best “section” or chunk.

Students completed this self-assessment ticket and stapled it to their work; I’ll collect these next week because students need their graphic organizer work for a creative mini-lit circle poster activity they’ll do in self-selected groups next week as we bring closure to this text before our unit test at the end of the week.  I plan to collect the hard copies of their work, but I plan to introduce Seesaw this month and use this tool for student portfolios and all of their self-assessment work.  In closing, we ended class time with some review questions; those who need extra time for either learning task could finish up at home over our long weekend.

One observation of note:  many students needed me to re-explain the instructions for self-assessment even after we reviewed them together.  I get the sense that this is not because they didn’t understand the instructions, but because many of them have had few opportunities to reflect on their work and explain what they did well in their work.  Some of them would even ask me to read what they wrote and ask me, “Is this good?”; I would read aloud what they had written and then ask them, “What do you think? How do you know?”  As I have blogged earlier this semester, I think it is really important for kids to engage in metacognition about their work and be intentional in evaluating their work and learning how to articulate when they have done something well instead of always looking to me the teacher as the final validation of “good.”

Based on my observations and what I read of the self-assessment as students showed me their work during class, I think this was a successful and meaningful learning activity for all my classes.  I definitely want to do more sketchnoting with students and was inspired by work I read from Shawna Coppola this summer as well as the pleathora of tweets from Tanny McGregor’s session at ILA this past July.    This was honestly my first attempt to introduce it to students, and I intentionally kept it simple for our initial efforts, but I hope to do some more intentional mini-lessons in the future.  These resources are my starting points, and I think you’ll find them helpful as well!

Last but not least, the video recording of Shawna and Tanny’s presentation:

Are you annotating and sketchnoting with students?  What are your best practices and tips?  I hope you’ll share here in the comment space below!